Working, socializing and relaxing online… Are you techno-stressed?
Scientific Newsflash and Courses of Action
Technostress and burnout
Technology plays a decidedly important role in our personal and professional lives. However, the current pandemic is catapulting us more than ever into the virtual world. Between virtual meetings and happy hours, online classes for children and relaxing with web series, screens and keyboards are with us every minute of the day. Fatigue, a sense of overload, anxiety whenever the phone vibrates and an uncontrollable need to check your emails are all reactions related to technostress. How can we stay connected without getting techno-stressed?
This initiative is supported by the Chief Scientist of Quebec, in collaboration with the Fonds de recherche du Québec.
Justine Dima is a PhD student at Université Laval’s Faculty of Business Administration. Her thesis deals with the expectations and concerns of workers about the use of artificial intelligence as part of their jobs.
The contents on a purple background are the doctoral student’s recommendations.
A state of psychological stress associated with the presence and intensity of stress factors related to the use of information technology (also known as techno-stressors). Techno-stressors can take many forms:
- Techno-insecurity: A feeling of insecurity caused by technology that poses the threat of job loss (e.g. being replaced by a new technology that does one’s job).
- Techno-uncertainty: A feeling of uncertainty about the technology one uses (e.g. learning to use new software introduced by the organization).
- Techno-complexity: A sense of incompetence generated by difficulties encountered using a new technology (e.g. having to devote time and effort to learn how to use a new computer).
- Techno-invasion: A feeling that technology is intruding and blurring the desired lines between work and other areas of life (e.g. family life).
- Techno-overload: A sense of overload caused by the efficiency and speed with which work requests are communicated via technologies such as smartphones.
Stress experienced by workers resulting from the perception of stress factors in their work environment. This includes:
- Work-family conflict: When family and work demands compete or are incompatible.
- Workplace stress: A worker’s state of psychological stress when work demands threaten to exceed the resources and abilities the worker possesses to deal with them, leaving them feeling unable to properly meet demands.
When workers experience stress, they try (consciously or otherwise) to manage and mitigate it, using coping strategies to reduce negative effects (e.g. burnout). There are two types of coping strategies, which differ in their effectiveness:
- Adaptive: A problem-focused response (e.g. learning to use a piece of software).
- Maladaptive: a response based on inaction, disengagement and denial (e.g. avoiding using a piece of software), which only makes a worker feel better temporarily.
Depletion of a worker’s mental resources.
Techno-invasion increases the risk of work-family conflicts.
The feeling that technology is taking over our lives (techno-invasion) exacerbates work-family conflict because we have less time to devote to our family and personal activities. The more hours a day employees work, the more they will experience work-family conflict and the less able they will be to use coping strategies to mitigate its negative effects.
Techno-overload increases workplace stress.
Because technology allows us to more easily and quickly receive requests from colleagues and supervisors (e.g. receiving emails, chats and text messages simultaneously), workers are forced to take on additional tasks, prioritize them and manage the work interruptions caused by technology.
Gender, age and number of hours worked per day affect the adoption of adaptive coping strategies.
The higher the number of hours worked per day, the more work-family conflicts there are, reducing the worker’s ability to adopt adaptive coping strategies rather than maladaptive ones (e.g. working overtime does not allow workers to help their partners make dinner, help their children with their homework or spend time learning to use new software at work).
Women and older workers are more likely to use adaptive coping strategies.
Techno-stressors generate stress which, in turn, influences coping strategies, and, as a result, the risk of burnout.
Adaptive coping strategies provide a buffer between techno-stressors (techno-invasion and techno-overload) and burnout. Conversely, maladaptive coping strategies increase the risk of burnout.
The consequences of maladaptive coping strategies (e.g. avoiding changing the way one manages emails and instant messaging and responding straight away to avoid the new learning process, which requires more energy) lead to higher levels of burnout than when adaptive strategies are used (e.g. learning a new method for managing email follow-ups and organization, which would take less energy).
WHAT CAN EMPLOYERS, MANAGERS AND WORKERS DO?
FOR EMPLOYERS AND MANAGERS
Reduce techno-stressors in the work environment
- Develop a policy laying out your expectations with regard to workplace technology usage (e.g. specify times for sending and receiving emails; encourage delayed email responses).
- Establish a culture whereby emails are sent only to the people concerned in order to reduce the sense of overload.
- Draw up a list of the different digital technologies to which workers have access and which they must use to perform their duties; assess whether these tools are still relevant, whether there are a reasonable number of them and whether your workers have the skills to use them.
- When evaluating an employee’s workload, think about training and technology usage, as well as the time needed to manage the sending and receiving of digital information (e.g. the volume of emails to process).
Offer resources and train workers in the healthy use of technology
- Equip your employees to properly do their jobs by providing resources (e.g. technical support staff, website or phone number) to ensure that workers make better use of technologies.
- Invest in skills development for employees so that they can react appropriately (e.g. by managing their priorities) in dealing with techno-stressors. With training, they will become more aware of technostress and its consequences, and of their ability to deal with them (e.g. setting aside specific blocks of time for reading emails in order to reduce techno-overload).
- Offer training on the risk of digital addiction and on the healthy use of technologies, both in their personal and professional lives.
Create reward systems
- Reward the behaviour of employees who use adaptive coping strategies (e.g. recognize good practices such as refraining from sending emails after work hours).
Develop and manage your coping strategies
- Be aware of your actions and try to improve (e.g. get into the habit of not responding to emails in the evening and on weekends and limiting screen time).
- Take the initiative by talking to your manager and colleagues about rules for the use of technology (e.g. expected email response time, criteria for deciding who to include on an email).
- Plan times during the day to turn off electronic devices and plan technology-free relaxation periods (e.g. no cell phone or TV).
HOW TO REFERENCE THIS SCIENTIFIC NEWSFLASH
Dima, J. (2020). Working, socializing and relaxing online… Are you techno-stressed? Global-Watch Scientific Newsflash, available at www.global-watch.com
Newsflash written under the supervision of France St-Hilaire, full professor of human resources at the Université de Sherbrooke Business School.
FULL STUDY REFERENCE
Gaudioso, F., Turel, O., & Galimberti, C. (2017). The mediating roles of strain facets and coping strategies in translating techno-stressors into adverse job outcomes. Computers in Human Behavior, 69, 189-196.
 Adapted from Gaudioso et al. (2017)